New pressurized house at Calais college to train builders in energy efficiency

Posted Oct. 30, 2011, at 4:51 p.m.
Washington County Community College building construction instructor Richard Ramsey, during the college’'s celebration of National Weatherization Day on Oct. 27, demonstrates how the college’'s new miniature weatherization house is being used as a teaching tool. The house was built with federal stimulus funds designed to promote weatherization programs across the country.
Courtesy of Washington County Community College
Washington County Community College building construction instructor Richard Ramsey, during the college’'s celebration of National Weatherization Day on Oct. 27, demonstrates how the college’'s new miniature weatherization house is being used as a teaching tool. The house was built with federal stimulus funds designed to promote weatherization programs across the country.

CALAIS, Maine — The days of putting on a carpenter’s apron and building a house are gone. Now carpenters need to know the science behind energy efficiency and how weatherization plays in home construction.

On Thursday, officials at the Washington County Community College, unveiled a new miniature pressurized house on campus that will help train students and local builders how to make homes more energy efficient, safe and healthy.

The training house was built with federal stimulus funds designed to promote weatherization programs around the country. The project funds were administered through the Maine State Housing Authority and Elliot Management Consultant of Bozeman, Mont., designed and installed the 10-foot-by-20-foot house on campus.

During Thursday’s event, which also served to celebrate National Weatherization Day, WCCC President Joyce Hedlund talked about how the new miniature pressurized house is an important teaching tool for the building construction program.

The laboratory house is the centerpiece for the most up-to-date weatherization and energy efficient training that the college can provide. To simulate real world conditions, the miniature house is set up with a fireplace, range hood, dryer, gas furnace and a natural gas or propane water heater. The appliances, fireplace and water and heating systems are all vented according to Maine State code. There also is a miniature cellar and simulated garage as well as a living room, bedroom and bathroom.

One of the major concerns among state officials is the air that homeowners and renters breathe. Carbon monoxide is a real threat inside a home. The miniature home is fitted with a smoke machine, which class instructor Richard Ramsey demonstrated on Thursday. Using a computer control panel and working with several variables, he showed the effects of pressure and the flow of energy in a home.

After the demonstration, Everett Libby, retired WCCC instructor and building contractor, said the miniature pressurized house was a great teaching tool for the college. He said the more professionals understand about weatherization, the better off the country will be.

“We rely so heavily in the northern part of this country on oil. Oil is nearly $4 a gallon and as long as it stays like that it is going to be more and more critical every day,” he said.

WCCC instructor Bill Barnett agreed that the miniature pressurized house was impressive.

“It [provides] a realistic and hands-on experience not only for people in the construction business, but also for those of us on the electrical side. We can do things with the students that we can’t do with a mock-up inside a building,” he said.

Jim Thompson, interim director of the St. Croix Valley Chamber of Commerce in Calais said the college program was important to the community.

“Energy resources are part of the increasing number of resources that are getting more scarce,” he said. “Here in Washington County we are used to doing without or doing with little and we can do with more if we pay attention to weatherization.”

In the future, the college plans to hold workshops and seminars for building professionals in the area. “This is definitely important for contractors, because contractors around here don’t have any other resource to supply this kind of information, but the community college can,” Barnett said.

The miniature pressurized house also will allow the college to expand its building trade program to eventually include weatherization certification for energy auditors and others.

Also on Thursday, WCCC officials and students participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Center for Construction Excellence located across from the college on Route 1.

The center, formerly the Barnes House, is another teaching tool for students enrolled in the construction trade programs at the college.

Last year, students working on the second floor of the center gutted and studded parts of the house to meet building codes. Students in the electrical program rewired the upstairs, while heating students worked on the boiler system and domestic hot water supply of the house. This year’s students continue to work on the upstairs, while other students are installing vinyl siding. Students in future programs also will have an opportunity to work on the house, Ramsey said.

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